The Prelude to Prevention
Professor K C Janardhan and his volunteering association with the SA-MUDRA FOUNDATION goes a long way back. He often quotes its Founder, Bharathi Singh as a fond example for a Real Fighter in recent times. SA-MUDRA (Meaning a ‘cohesive’, ‘positive’ identity’ in Sanskrit) is an NGO that stems from a Troubled Prelude and Timely Prevention in her own life.
Her First Calling was somewhere during the years 1994-95. That was the time Bharathi had a lot going on, both professionally and in personal life. She had walked out of an unhappy marriage with just Rs 2,000 in hand, then ensued the divorce proceedings and settling down post-divorce alongside the custody battles of her two sons. The flip side, she was trying to get back to completing her education and career for financial security… Amidst all these developments in 2004, one day her teenage son writes on his bedroom door “I need HELP”!
He was talented, well-read, musically well-tuned but lost in multiple challenges. The transition from school to college, hormonal changes, relationship issues and a lot of Unresolved Emotions since childhood… were a few reasons that we could quickly list.
He wanted to talk to somebody on the phone who could just be there to hear him without judgement and comfort him into the self-healing process without asking for money. “There is nobody here like this!” he cried out loud. This small boy talking… also resonated from the social stigma faced by a Broken Family. He took four years and continuous counselling and therapy to heal completely. Today, most of the creative content on youth empowerment and personality development followed at SA-MUDRA FOUNDATION is designed and drafted by him!
Says Bharathi Singh: That day opened up an alternative path and a larger concern for me. If my son is so confused in life and gets help by just talking to me about it, then I should also help many others like him!
There weren’t many mental health professionals then. Coinciding with this episode was the unfortunate suicide of a student at ICFAI Management College, where Bharathi was then working with the Training and Placements department…
The continuous failures in job interviews had depressed this student. As the rejection trend continued, the fear of an uncertain future ultimately consumed her, investigations revealed.
Eventually, Bharathi Singh launched the SA-MUDRA FOUNDATION with the support of Prof. Radhakrishna, her mentor. The SA-MUDRA Yuva Helpline is her brainchild to offer free counseling on-call for students and parents.
Fast Forward 12 years from then, Today, the SA-MUDRA FOUNDATION has positively impacted over 1.6 lakh youth, students, and families. All this was achieved against the ‘drought of money’ and amidst ‘flood of social stigma’. The twin concerns remain unabated, like a leaning wall against Bharathi Singh, but Nothing has Stopped her from scaling the heights to probe into the deeper depths of depression, suicide prevention, and Mental Health awareness. Excerpts from the quick interview:
Interview with Bharathi Singh:
♣ What is Your Perspective on the Present Day Mental Health Awareness in Society?
Despite rising cases of depression, India sure sees better awareness. ‘Counseling’ has got many fancy names & job titles today… In Fact, we also call ourselves ‘Youth Advisors’ in some platforms. However, in my opinion, post Deepika Padukone’s confession, Depression has also become a style statement, grossly abused by some students. Genuine sufferers continue to stay away. Probably this is why Suicides are also becoming a regular affair.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records 1,39,123 suicide deaths in 2019 from India alone, of which, 10,200 are students. Simply put, at least three students opt out of life every day in India! Worse, some suicides are also used as cover-up names for `neatly-executed’ murder. The Indian Media has been relentlessly reporting on at least two such deaths as we talk now.
♣ Some Real Challenges On Ground:
Even Today, Mental Health means Mental Patient! Many times, I also feel that we are dealing with an Informed Youth who have self-injected an overdose of Google Search on Depression! Generic anxieties, like appearing for the Class 10 Board exams, the first time, are grossly misunderstood and labelled as `DEPRESSION’. A Mother who insists on cleanliness is quickly diagnosed as suffering from ‘OCD’ and a Father who reacts to his teen daughter attending late-night parties is branded `Psychotic’.
There is also a rising number of quack ‘Google doctors’ who Google Search their symptoms for the diagnosis, suggestive antidepressants, tranquillisers, mood stabilisers and its dosage. These drugs are not sold without a prescription at medical shops however they can be easily purchased online! These drugs in turn increase drug dependency which is dangerous. There are so many such cases which come to us. What is lacking is the correct information and the real diagnosis.
During the SSLC exams, we receive close to 50 calls a day from students in distress. This year, some also called in asking for ‘Performance Enhancement’ and `Memory Improving’ drugs! Drugs and Depression coexist in myriad ways. The Sushant Singh Rajput case is a leading example today. Most people who come to us are heavily drug dependent, this also includes gross overdose of psychotic drugs.
♣ What are your insights and observations on Parenting Trends?
Overall it has been a disturbing trend to observe. I strongly feel that ‘We’ are not preparing the youth enough, to face crisis and in accepting disappointments.
Further, forced workaholism among parents for financial stability and perennially high divorce rates have caused emotional instability in many children. An alarming percentage of marriages also end in divorce during the early years and the new age `synthetic’ arrangements of `convenience’ like ‘Live-Ins’, ‘Contractual’, ‘No-Child pact’ and ‘Open Marriages’ have only confused our youth and fed their social and emotional insecurities.
My own experience as a divorced parent trying to raise adolescent children, understanding their growing-up issues has given me a lot of practical lessons to guide many families.
♣ The Number Talk: Troubling Trends & Statistics
In the year 2019-20, we have received a total of 493 genuine calls. The number of calls we received on the Helpline during the lockdown phase of March-August 2020 was over double the regular number. Interestingly, after Bengaluru, the majority of these distress calls were from North India – Delhi, followed by Mumbai and Pune in the West. They google us out more!
The cases that we have received during the lockdown phase, especially from Bengaluru, is an interest mix of – students confused about the SSLC exams, students those who have been selected at the campus and have not got job offers, the anxiety about post COVID careers, job insecurity, work from home stress, parents complaining about aggression, disobedience, addictions (especially digital) among children, virtual relationship dangers, living in conflicts, boredom, sexual harassment, abusive partners, depression & self-harming dangers including those relating to Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D deficiency, which play crucial roles in brain function. Our serotonin, dopamine levels also dip with lack of proper exposure to sunlight.
Another concern today is that most youngsters are not early risers. 10-10.30 am is the time to be out there under the sun. At least 80 percent of parents who come to us complain that their kids wake up only after 12 noon! Screen time and Social Media addiction keep them awake till early morning. Even before COVID 19, our interactions with college principals revealed that barring a few strict colleges, the first two periods on any day, saw 35% absentees.
♣ What are the Key Issues still unresolved in preventing Suicides?
Let this be very clear… Most Mental Health issues are recurring. Normalcy is only a Myth. There is no 100 percent cure. It’s like Diabetes – It can be managed, it can be channelled and the effects can be minimised over a period of time. But, it needs timely action, continuous counselling and unconditional family support throughout. Besides, a balanced diet, regular exercise and the proper dose of medicines in clinical cases are also crucial components. The Core beliefs need to be corrected for better awareness and comfort levels. It’s OK to be Not OK.
Most Important: Medicine dosages must be strictly monitored by a certified professional.
♣ How is SA-MUDRA FOUNDATION making a difference?
We strongly believe that early intervention is the ‘only’ way to cure mental health issues, especially Depression. Alongside, we also follow the Early Four Stage counselling for youth that include: the SA-MUDRA YUVA Helpline, Counselling and Guidance for both the students and their family, Training in Life Skills and Livelihood skills.
Over the years, our street plays also see increasing youth and family participation. Last year, we carried the campaign in London. That’s when I also realised that we Indians are far better when it comes to Social Stigma. In the UK, I had to meet at least 10 people before one of them would hear me out. Here in India, when we do any street play, people connect and gather in good numbers, which is encouraging.
With COVID-19, we are now also into the virtual medium, conducting these plays, regular classes, and webinars on various digital platforms.
♣ The Challenges You Face:
It is mandatory to have an in-house counsellor in every educational institution today but this system fails in most schools and colleges because of the taboo and social stigma related to counselling. Most parents who come to us for help also start with hesitation and talk to us in a third-person narrative – about some girl or boy in the family or close friend circle suffering… Only after one or two sessions, they confess that it is their own child who has the problem.
The need of the time is to create the right awareness, enable them to face challenges of life bravely. My mantra is to Connect, Communicate and boost Confidence among the emotionally vulnerable youth. People who end lives, due to untreated, advanced stages of depression, set a very bad example for the rest. It’s an emotionally churning experience for the affected parents as they suffer social phobia and lose their purpose in life. The whole family gets devastated and they hesitate to be associated with us for any awareness campaigns. I also had the experience of counselling the best friend of a suicide victim, who took over a year to overcome the trauma of losing her friend.
Our professional challenges also include: the lack of fund allocation in both the government and corporate sectors, attrition & non-availability of committed, trained human resources. In addition to funding NGOs, the CSR initiatives of companies must also involve concerns and action plans for the youth who are rejected in job interviews… Most of these ‘failures’ that we have interacted are intelligent. Some are self-harming but don’t hurt others. What about their future?
The modern world and so-called image-building exercise has put us all, either in a Constant Rat Race Or Out of Life… There is No Stay In-Between! Even as social workers, we are expected to do extensive Marketing, Public Relations & Image building exercises. We are also given constant development inputs from so-called experts like: You should socialize, build a bigger social circle… Somewhere we have lost track of the reality of life and what really matters.
The SA-MUDRA YUVA HELPLINE – 9880396331 (Call or WhatsApp 9.00 am to 9.00 pm)
A registered NGO supported by the Department of Youth Empowerment, CSR support from Toyoda Gosei South India Pvt. Limited, Rittal India & Madura Fashions & Retail.
Offers Holistic and Psycho-Social Intervention for Youth Suffering Psychological injuries (Caused by Academic failures, Exam Anxiety, Relationship Conflicts, Career Confusions, Sexual Harassment), Teen- Parenting Problems, Workplace Stress, First Stage Depression and Self Harm tendencies etc , among others.
Please Note: SA-MUDRA is NOT a Mental Health institution offering clinical solutions. All cases needing clinical interventions are escalated to NIMHANS & other Hospitals.
SA-MUDRA FOUNDATION is a 12A and 80G compliant NGO. Donations get exemptions under the relevant sections of the Income Tax Act in India.